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Royals trade candidate: Scott Barlow

The Royals really need to get back a good return for their closer.

Cleveland Guardians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

The Royals have already traded away one reliever this summer, sending Aroldis Chapman to the Rangers for pitcher Cole Ragans and minor league outfielder Roni Cabrera. But they may not be done dealing, with reliever Scott Barlow expected to be one of the more discussed names on the trading block this summer.

Although the 30-year-old right-hander hasn’t had many save opportunities over the years for the Royals, he has still been one of the most effective relievers in baseball. Since 2019, Barlow has been the 11th-most valuable reliever in baseball, by Fangraphs WAR with the fourth-most strikeouts. He has a 3.30 ERA and a 29 percent strikeout rate over that time.

Things have been a bit shaky for Barlow lately however. Over his last 12 outings, he has a 7.50 ERA with eight walks in 12 innings, including last night’s four-run relief appearance. Of course, he also had a stretch just before that where he was close to unhittable, a 15-game stretch where he struck out 41 percent of opposing hitters, who batted just 143/.213/.179 against him. So which Barlow will teams expect to get going forward?

His velocity has been down the last two seasons, with his fastball averaging just 93 mph this year. But his slider has actually improved this year, and it has been one of the most effective in baseball this year with a 33.1 percent whiff rate. Teams will likely look at the entire package of what Barlow has to offer, and a few bad outings should not dissuade teams from pursuing him, particularly if they are confident their coaching staff can tweak his repertoire (more breaking balls?) to improve his performance.

Mark Feinsand at wrote that the buzz on Barlow is “high”, and “the Royals should do well in a Barlow deal.” Virtually any team could use a reliever, in particular the Braves, Brewers, Orioles, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Red Sox, Yankees are all expected to be seeking relief help at the deadline.

Unlike Chapman, Barlow is not just a three-month rental. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2024 season, meaning a team would get him for not just this season, but next year as well, at a cost-controlled salary. Teams value years of club control highly, so the return for Barlow should be considerably higher.

A comp for trading Barlow could be the deal last year that sent Jorge López from the Orioles to the Twins in a package for four minor leaguers - infielder Juan Nunez, and pitchers Cade Povich, Juan Rojas, and Yennier Cano. López was in the middle of a better season than Barlow is currently enjoying, but he had less of a track record. He had two and a half years of club control left, while Barlow only has one and a half. But their values are fairly similar - Baseball Trade Value has Barlow’s current surplus trade value at $6.5, while they had Lopez’s at $5.6 at the time of his trade.

The Lopez deal was perceived as underwhelming at the time, with only Povich listed as a top 30 prospect in the system. But a year later, Povich is up to #11 in a deep Orioles system with a big strikeout season in Double-A, and Cano is an All-Star reliever with one of the best walk rates in baseball. Development matters!

The deal relied more on talent further away from the big leagues, but if the Royals seek MLB-ready talent, they can look to the deal last winter that sent Tigers All-Star reliever Gregory Soto to the Phillies for catcher Donny Sands, infielder Nick Maton, and outfielder Matt Vierling. Soto, who was sent with utility infielder Kody Clemens, had two years of club control left, but had less surplus value than Barlow at the time of the deal, according to Baseball Trade Value, although they assessed the trade as an overpay by the Phillies. The Tigers got a solid 26-year-old outfielder in Vierling who has a 109 OPS+ this year with good defense, while Maton has failed to hit this year and profiles as a utility infielder.

The Royals will have to decide if they want players that can help soon, or they are willing to take a gamble on upside. But they should have no shortage of suitors this summer. If they don’t get the deal they want, they can hold onto Barlow and look to trade him this off-season or even next summer. But every day they hang onto him, he drops in value with a risk of injury or ineffectiveness. Ideally, the Royals would have traded Barlow a year or two ago. But they should still be able to get a good return for him in the next few weeks.